January 29, 2006

Jamaican Chicken Stew

Still not able to post new photos (soon, I hope!) but I did manage to find an unposted photo that I had stored elsewhere than my computer. This is a dish that I make quite often - it's quick, it depends on staple ingredients from my pantry, and it is delicious. It's also extraordinarily healthy, being both very low-fat and chock-full of antioxidant black beans.

There are a lot of recipes kicking around the web for Jamaican Chicken Stew and I suppose that mine isn't radically different from the others out there, but I do prefer it with my own little adjustments. I originally took the recipe from the first Cooking Light Soups & Stews collection, and added/changed/tweaked as necessary to come up with this - a household favourite that gets made at least once per month (and has been made with turkey thighs, chicken thighs, or chicken breast to good effect).

I make this often enough that I should probably just mix up a big batch of the spice mixture that gets tossed with the cut-up chicken. I almost always have some black beans and a can of diced tomatoes lurking around, and capers certainly keep well in the fridge. I keep a giant bottle of vermouth on the kitchen counter to use in risottos and to deglaze anything that seems to need it, which is much more pantry-friendly than the red wine listed in the original recipe. As written, the recipe takes a paltry 1/2 hour to make, from strolling into the kitchen to dishing up the finished dish. Use of a non-stick pan makes clean-up decidedly easy, and if there are any leftovers (I always plan for leftovers) they reheat splendidly for dinner or lunches the next day.

Really, this is a dish that gets five stars: one for being delicious, two for being quick, three for being healthy, four for easy clean-up, and five for terrific leftovers.

Now I know what to do with that package of chicken breasts I found on sale at the supermarket this week: I'm adding this in to my menu plan!

January 23, 2006

Common Cold

I know what it looks like. No, I'm not actually trying to wedge as many Hawksley Workman song references into my writing as possible. It just looks like it. Really. Ahem. Onward:

Sailu tagged me for a different sort of meme: Natural Home Remedies for the Common Cold. Since colds are viral in nature, it will always take time for the body to fight off and kill the virus. Most remedies are about easing symptoms and shoring up your body's strength so that your immune system can do its job with maximum efficiency.

Preventive, natural, and cabinet-medicine has long been a pet interest of mine, so I'm pleased to contribute my family's time-honoured curative: Switchel.

Switchel is a vinegar-based drink that is served hot or cold, depending on the usage. I've most recently heard its origin ascribed to the West Indies, but most often I hear of it as a replenishing beverage served by Mennonite farmers to their field workers during the long harvest days. An early Gatorade, if you will, designed to quench thirst and restore electrolytes to folks labouring in the hot sun. It's entirely probable, I think, that if it does originate in the Islands it must have originally contained rum - a sort of hot-toddy sort of deal. Many of the original recipes contain molasses, although that fell by the wayside in our family.

The onset of a winter cold is often heralded by an itchy or tender throat, and at the first signs of one my mother would whip out the apple cider vinegar. Her recipe was fairly plain, consisting of water, apple cider vinegar, honey, and a pinch of ground gingerroot. I ditched the dried ginger for a few slices of fresh ginger, making it a sort of augmented ginger tea, I suppose, more than anything else. A couple of years ago I tried adding molasses back in, but found the results quite unpalatable. There are other variations, including cayenne pepper and a host of other herbal tweaks. I like to keep it simple enough that I don't have to measure much or fuss when I'm already feeling under-the-weather - in fact, I often measure this more in freehand "dollops" than anything else.

Switchel

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 - 3 slices of fresh ginger root, to taste (peel may be left on)
1 cup boiling water

Mix together and allow to stand (and cool!) for about five minutes. Sip until throat is soothed. Also pretty good chilled, particularly after physical exertion. This is fairly strong, as it is intended as medicine, but if you want to go cautiously, reduce the amounts of honey and vinegar to a teaspoon each. Because vinegar is fairly pungent, the vapours may affect othes adversely. I try not to inflict this on Palle, because he doesn't enjoy being in the same room with the smell of hot vinegar. He doesn't like hot lemon, either. I, however, find it comforting, so it's a good thing that we have a big house...

The honey is soothing, of course, and the vinegar helps clear the sinuses and cuts through the sensation of phlegminess that goes along with a head cold.

Now that I think about it, I'm a little surprised that she didn't feed us garlic tea, as garlic was her very favourite cure-all. She was quite pleased about the time that she had lost her sense of taste due to a head cold, and fixed a peanut butter (for protein) and crushed garlic (for medicine) sandwich for lunch. I don't think she ever had the chance to repeat it, but she is convinced that it spurred her back to health.

January 20, 2006

Me, in Fours:

Here's my contribution to the "Me, in Fours" meme that's running around. I was tagged my Michele and am soldiering on bravely! So, if you want some revealing and silly trivia about me, read on:

4 Jobs I've Had
1. Make up Artist
2. Network Administrator
3. Veterinary Assistant
4. Executive Assistant

4 Movies I Watch Over and Over
n.b. – this only applies if it is on when I sit down and start flipping channels. I will get sucked into these ones. They’re not necessarily my favourite movies ever. Tomorrow, I would come up with a different list entirely.

1. The Princess Bride
2. Raiders of the Lost Ark
3. The Maltese Falcon
4. Star Wars (the original. You know, where Han shoots first. Yes, I’m a geek.)

4 Places I've Lived
1. Porpoise Bay
2. Roberts Creek
3. Vancouver
4. Backpacking with no fixed address (belongings in storage), Europe

4 Websites I Check Daily
1. Google News
2. This Is Not Over
3. Office Pools (during Hockey season)
4. Damn Hell Ass Kings

4 TV Shows I Love
1. Futurama
2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
3. House
4. X-Files

How sad is it, that three of the four are finished?

4 of My Favorite Foods
Randomly,
1. Blanquette de veau
2. Braised lamb shanks
3. Pie (almost any type)
4. Baked beans

4 Albums I Can't Live Without
1. Lover/Fighter by Hawksley Workman (Tough pick, I love all of HW’s albums, and he’s got a new one coming out next month…)
2. Secrets of the Beehive by David Sylvian
3. Dear Catastrophe Waitress by Belle & Sebastian
4. Jordan, the Comeback by Prefab Sprout

4 Places I'd rather be
1. Paris, France
2. Verona, Italy
3. Mexico (because I’ve never been, but I love the food)
4. In a gigantic, claw-footed bathtub full of lavender bubbles and hot water

Too much information?

January 13, 2006

A Little Spice is Always Nice

My home computer is still on the injured list, so no photos at the moment. Thank goodness for lunch hours!

As I mentioned in my Grinding In the New Year post, I have grown to appreciate the premixing of spices - particularly when they are blended by hand to the taste of the cook. When I mentioned my Cajun spice blend, reader PatL wondered if it was anything like Tony Chachere's. I still can't answer that, although a little internet research suggests that Chachere's has low-salt versions of their regular product. I saw some "look-alike" recipes which contained appalling things like Accent (MSG) and a boat-load of salt, but there are a limited number of recipes out there for Cajun and Creole seasonings, and most online versions that I can find all sport similar ingredients. Certainly the major-players (ground red pepper, black pepper, garlic, onion & thyme) seem to be present in almost every version.

Below is my basic blend, but I confess that I tweak it depending on what I have on-hand, and occasionally, whim. Sometimes I add dried basil, just a teeny bit, but usually I prefer to add basil fresh to the dish that I'm making, if it requires it. There's no salt here - I season my food quite lightly as far as sodium is concerned, so if I'm adding salt to a recipe I will do it separately from the spices.

Dawna's Cajun Spice

4-5 tablespoons ground cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons ground smoked paprika (or "hot" paprika)
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 teaspoon thyme leaves (1/2 teaspoon if using ground thyme)
2 tablespoon dehydrated garlic granules
2 tablespoon dehydrated onion granules
1 large bayleaf

Place ingredients in the belly of your spice grinder, and grind until a fine, uniform powder is achieved. Be careful not to inhale. This makes about 2/3 cup, or two regular-sized spice bottles full.

A note on the onion and garlic. I use dehydrated granules, which is superior to powder in part because of the way in which they are processed. Powders always smell flat and a little metallic to me, and they are hard to reconstitute into a nice-smelling paste. The coarser dehydrated granules, on the other hand, have all kinds of uses, and work very well in this sort of spice blend.

I have the sudden urge to make Jambalaya, now...

January 08, 2006

Does Not Compute

If any of you out there are wondering why there hasn't been an update on the non-blog Always in the Kitchen site, we are currently experiencing technical difficulties. A new essay and recipe will be posted once they are resolved.

In the meantime, I am inventing exciting new ways to curse Microsoft, which is probably redundant; I'm pretty sure someone beat me to it...

January 05, 2006

Grinding in the New Year

I'm a big fan of the spice rack. My particular model was built for me by my father, after listening to me complain about how I could never find one that was big enough to accommodate my frequent flyers. He built it from reclaimed marine hardwood and presented it to me a few years ago as a Christmas present. I installed it immediately, filled it up promptly, and have been using it ever since. Most of the bottles are old, but the spices, I promise (with the notable exception of the fenugreek seed, which isn't entirely... ah, okay. Except that one. And the Herbs de Provence.) are less than a year old and many of them are considerably less than that.

I use a much greater quantity of herbs and spices than my mother did, although some of that is simply because I cook from my fierier cuisines than she did, by and large. I generally prefer flavours to be full and prominent, although I do still enjoy that whispery sense of "Can you identify that?" of more subtly flavoured dishes. Using a goodly quantity of herbs makes for going through them more quickly, which makes for fresher stock all the way around. If you are lucky enough to source a shop that does high turnover in good quality spices, that's a good start. If that same store packages their own into little, convenient zip-top baggies and charges only pennies for them, you've got it made. If the mustard seeds are looking kind of faded, or the dill has lost its scent, it usually costs me a pittance to replace them.

One thing that I never really got into, despite a fascination with the spice drawer in my mother's kitchen and a predilection for mixing things together, was spice mixtures. At least, not the commercial ones. The spice mixtures available when I was a kid were usually "Italian Seasoning" (much of which would be salt) and similar convenience packaged things for people who didn't want to measure from more than one bottle, or don't know what sort of herbs were complimentary with each other. I disliked them for the perceived laziness, but also for the lack of control over the quantity of each herb or spice in the blend. Chili powder evaded my distain solely because I was too ignorant to know that it was actually a blend, and not just straight powdered chile.

I still use chili powder, because I found one that I like. I also use a Herbs de Provence mixture, pretty much because we bought it in Provence, which means that it's the oldest thing on my rack. Clearly, I need a trip to France again, and soon! I've unbent on the pre-made mixtures enough to appreciate ones that are well made, but I tend to make my own spice blends. I have a blend for Cajun, one for South West flavours, and perhaps the best one of all, garam masala.

I was disenchanted with commercially purchased garam masala, and intrigued by the recipe that I found in Seductions of Rice by Alford & Duguid. I promptly scaled the recipe down and gave it a cautious try - to my absolute delight. The house was so thoroughly perfumed with Indian spices that eating anything else for dinner was unthinkable. When I recently made a fresh batch - same thing. Even just thinking about it makes me hungry.

There are a lot of variations out there on garam masala - some include chiles, or fennel seeds, or other ingredients. The great thing is, you can play with the mixture until you get one you like. I think this one is terrific as is - it's certainly a great starting point.

Garam Masala

Adapted from Seductions of Rice

1/4 cup black peppercorns
1/4 cup whole coriander seed
1/4 cup whole cumin seeds
1 tablespoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds from the inside of green cardamom pods
1 inch of cinnamon stick, broken

Place a medium skillet over a medium flame and add all of the spices. Dry roast them until fragrant, stirring constantly, and continue to roast for another minute or two after the scent becomes strong. Remove from heat and pour into a bowl to cool for a couple of minutes before grinding.

Place the slightly cooled spices into a spice grinder and grind until a fine, uniform powder is achieved. Allow powder to finish cooling, and then store as you would any ground spice - in a jar or sealed bag, preferably away from light.

This makes just exactly the amount of garam masala for me to fit the whole spices into my grinder all at once. The ground yield is about 3/4 cup.

Have a snack on hand - this will make you hungry.

January 02, 2006

The Remains of the Bird


Part of the ritual of Christmas dinner is dealing gracefully with the leftovers. While I am no stranger to turkey soup (and quite a fan, I assure you), I seldom find myself in possession of a turkey carcass these days - even at Christmas and Thanksgiving. This is the benefit/detriment of being the one doing the travelling on the holidays.

My extended family gets together on Boxing Day, and that's the day of Turkey. For just the two of us, Christmas day has become the day of Any Other Bird (and once, a ham), although I did do a classic roast turkey the year that we hosted the Boxing Day dinner, and one year I made a braised, stuffed turkey breast roulade with cider gravy from Eating Well magazine. We've had duck, goose (twice), Cornish Game Hen, Pheasant, chicken (that first year, before we actually started dating), and the aforementioned ham (done Alton Brown city ham style, and boy! Delicious!).

This year, we returned to the duck. I employed last year's new knowledge regarding fatty game birds, and plunged the little darling into boiling water for a minute to kick-start the rendering process, and a heckuva lot of fat was rendered into the roasting pan, at the end of it. Enough that I'm seriously attempting my own duck confit - purely for the education process, you understand.

Your average duckling is supposedly food for two to four people, so we had rather a lot of meat leftover. At first, the possibilities seemed kind of endless, but we finally settled on a two-with-one-stone. The duck meat was divested from the bones, which were then simmered into a thick broth, which was put on standby for Duck with Wild Mushroom Risotto. I looked to my classic Wild Mushroom Risotto recipe for guidance, and added the chopped duck meat just before returning the mushrooms to the pan. We were very, very happy with the results.

There's still rather a lot of duck stock in my freezer - I've since used all of the meat, but I'm sure that I will find a use for it. There's always, after all, duck soup. Easy, right?